Among those most concerned about the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law that barred gay men and women from serving openly in the military were some military chaplains, who were afraid that their religious liberty would be threatened. Now, with several months of the repeal in effect and gays serving openly, the AP reports that they see little change in their duties:
Prior to repeal, various conservative groups and individuals — including many conservative retired chaplains — warned that repeal would trigger an exodus of chaplains whose faiths consider homosexual activity to be sinful. In fact, there’s been no significant exodus — perhaps two or three departures of active-duty chaplains linked to the repeal. Moreover, chaplains or their civilian coordinators from a range of conservative faiths told The Associated Press they knew of virtually no serious problems thus far involving infringement of chaplains’ religious freedom or rights of conscience.
“To say the dust has settled would be premature,” said Air Force Col. Gary Linsky, a Roman Catholic priest who oversees 50 fellow chaplains in the Air Mobility Command. “But I’ve received no complaints from chaplains raising concerns that their ministries were in any way conflicted or constrained.”
What has the effect been on Catholic clergy serving those in the armed forces? According to Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who was vocal in his opposition to repeal, many of his fears have not materialized. But he warns they might in the future. Or they already have, but no one is saying anything. And he worries that Catholic chaplains may lose their liberty to preach against homosexuality during religious services. And even if priests aren’t prevented from preaching, he fears they might be forced to silently condone same-sex marriage. From the article:
The Catholic official who oversees those chaplains, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, had vehemently opposed repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and issued a statement after repeal conveying ongoing concerns “in this difficult time.”
“This archdiocese remains resolved in the belief that no Catholic chaplain will ever be compelled to condone — even silently — homosexual behavior,” he said then.
However, Broglio said he was unaware of any major repeal-related problems that had arisen for his chaplains during the first nine months of the new era.
“There have been no overt difficulties,” he said. “It’s more a question of what might occur in the future.”
Broglio remains concerned that Catholic chaplains might somehow be pressured to participate in or facilitate ceremonies or programs that bestow recognition and approval on same-sex couples — “As time goes by, it will be a challenge, to make certain you’re not silently condoning.”
As for preaching the Catholic doctrine that homosexual behavior is a sin, Broglio said he expects chaplains to retain the freedom to do so as part of their religious services. But he said there is confusion as to whether that freedom extends to other settings where chaplains might face pressure to deliver inclusive messages.
Broglio said he has not given his chaplains specific instructions to either emphasize church teaching on homosexuality in their preaching or to avoid the subject.
He concurred with the estimates that only a handful of chaplains have left the military because of the repeal. He said “two or three” Catholic chaplains had resigned their commissions in recent months, and guessed that repeal may have been a factor though they didn’t cite that specifically.
The Episcopal bishop who oversees his contingent of chaplains says the religious liberty argument is not fueled by those actually serving as chaplains, but by outside groups:
Bishop James Magness, the coordinator for about 75 active-duty and reserve Episcopal chaplains, said he’d heard a common, positive verdict about repeal from his more conservative Catholic, Mormon and Southern Baptist colleagues.
“The whole argument about religious liberty is so incredibly uninformed, and inflamed by some of the very conservative legal groups,” Magness said. “In reality, there’s been very little if any of the services forcing any ministerial activity on a chaplain against his or her will.”